Conversion Rate and eCommerce Maturity 

As business maturity increases so does the importance of conversion rate optimization. 

In Something Digital’s 20 years of being in business we have worked with startups and some of the largest companies in the world. What we have learned about our clients from our experience: the maturity of the brand will drive the business plan. 

Take a startup for instance, typically when they launch their website, they do not have a solid customer base. Their immediate goal is to get their name out there, drive traffic to the site, and encourage brand discovery.  

Enterprise level companies however, are focusing their website visitors on conversion. In many cases, this conversion is correlated to revenue generation.  

The difference between the goals of these two businesses, being on varying ends of the maturity spectrum, is the enterprise level company has already established name recognition, credibility, and a loyal customer base frequenting their website. And a startup cannot optimize what it does not yet have. Therefore, as business maturity increases so does the importance of conversion rate optimization.  

Mistaking revenue generation as the only factor of website success 

You may be asking yourself: Shouldn’t an e-commerce site be all about driving revenue? That is what I thought when I got into this business 6 years ago. But as a startup brand, it’s difficult to build your customer base. Think of it this way: you open a brick and mortar store your first priority is getting people in the door. Once they are in the door, you need to create a welcoming environment that provides a positive first impression. Maybe a shopper is just going to peruse on this visit. So, you want to make their experience memorable so that they come back, and even better, share their experience with others. This is the beginning of creating a loyal customer base; one which you can rely on for continual purchases. But it starts with getting customers in the door. It starts with traffic. 

In the early stages of e-commerce maturity, it is advantageous to encourage the development of your relationship with the customer through discovery, where we get to know each other. 

Driving Traffic 

Let us look at an example of why it’s important to start with a maturity analysis before jumping into optimization.  

A few years ago, I started working with an online-only startup. We began discussing their site so early in the birth of the business that they did not even know their brand identity. We progressed over time and eventually launched their site. In the infancy of their launch, like any release into production, we started getting requests to troubleshoot issues, change design elements, and add new features. The site was live, but we weren’t meeting business expectations.  

So, with a data driven mindset and mentality to prioritize what would be most impactful first, we looked to the onsite metrics to frame out next steps.  

Where was the data? Their traffic was so low, we had no supporting factors or evidence to make any changes. Every hypothesis was a shot in the dark. Troubleshooting functionality was difficult when we couldn’t recreate issues. We would watch back session recordings, but the sample size was so small we couldn’t assume, “because one person is stuck, they all will be”. So, we entered strategic war rooms and all ideas were thrown on the table: 

Content Marketing: Can we more clearly emphasize the value of this brand and product over competitors? What’s unique here? Do we have more and higher quality images or videos to validate the superiority of the product? Can we get more descriptive product summaries? 

Cost: Can we lower the product cost? Can we offer free shipping and returns? 

Promos: Can we increase the discount for newsletter sign-up? 

Security: Can we visually prove the site is secure and transactions are safe? 

Technical: What is broken? Is add to cart working on all browsers and devices? 

Marketing: What is being done to drive more traffic? What is the PPC Plan? Paid Social? Paid Search? 

We decided that we could not come up with any valid hypothesis until we had more traffic. We also recognized that any solution would cost money. So, guessing was risky. And that’s when we decided, driving traffic was the priority.  

As a startup, it does not matter if your site works, if you don’t have traffic. And yes, driving traffic would also cost money, but at least then your next steps would be based on data driven decisions, instead of risky assumptions.  

Building Trust 

Once you have reached your target audience by getting them “in your front door”, you need to have a trustworthy brand to get them engaged.  

When I visit a site like I’d assume they are not the highest converting site. And conversion is clearly not the primary goal, because the shopping funnel is almost hidden from you. You visit their site and they immediately encourage you to break the rules. They introduce you to characters like Dash and Zombie. You are honestly not sure what they are selling, but you know you either like or do not like what you immediately see. And if you like it, you are going to stay for a while and explore. Customers will start playing games on their product detail pages and forget why they came to the website in the first place.  

What is all this meant to encourage? It cannot be sales. It even looks like they are selling tickets to a show rather than cereal. The site is encouraging you to explore the brand: who they are, the art they create, how they make you feel! So that when you do make a purchase and taste the cereal, you harken back to the website that made you feel like a kid again, even if you are eating cereal at $12 per box (!!). That nostalgia is what differentiates Off Limits from their thousands of competitors in the breakfast cereal space. Off Limits would not trade that feeling for a single sale.  

On the other hand, you have a more mature business like When a customer is looking for flowers to be delivered, it is one of the first places they look. When you are a mature brand, that has developed a loyal customer base, the exploration aspect is less important. With a strong traffic flow and brand credibility in your favor, you’ll want to eliminate shopping distractions to avoid obstacles to conversion. Customers will come back to your site over and over because they know your brand, they know what you are about, and they know what you sell. For first time customers, you have a strong customer base to validate your brand. Instead of exploration, the business is looking to provide a seamless experience that motivates the purchase. 

Pro Flowers has clearly invested in conversion rate optimization. They cut to the chase and know the first thing you want to see: what is your target delivery date and what is your zip code. Once you fill that out, they show you everything available to you and all the categories: birthday, anniversary, congratulations, get well soon and so much more. This is not by accident. They have a path that millions of customers have followed before you. Less mature businesses do not have that advantage. Through conversion rate optimization, they even cater my journey with a unique experience from yours, as I fit into a different customer segment. They are taking the customer data available to them to provide a personalized experience that will best generate the sale. 

Website goals are not all the same 

At the end of the day, your business goals are going to determine your ecommerce strategy and those business goals will change as you mature. At Something Digital, we start with our ecommerce maturity model: BULLSEYE. If you are a business just starting out online, we will advise you to focus on growing traffic. If you are a more trusted online brand, we will gear our work toward conversion rate optimization. It is our goal to help you strategically approach your growth. 


Have questions and want help with your conversion rate and ecommerce maturity? Reach out to us.

This post was written by Something Digital’s Director of Business Development Tony Ciarelli and Vice President of Programs Megan DeLeonardis.

Tony Ciarelli

Tony is a Southern California native who enjoys spending time with his family and playing beach volleyball with his friends. Tony’s other interests include listening to the Grateful Dead, watching the Yankees, Lakers and USC Trojans, and hanging out with his wife (not necessarily in that order).